The concept of race and field experience in the nineteenth century: Science, indigenous agency, and the vacillations of a French naturalist in Oceania [L'idee de race et l'exprience sur le terrain au XIXe sicle: Science, action indigene et vacillations d'un naturaliste francais en oceanie

Bronwen Douglas

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    This paper does not consider «race» as an exclusively abstract concept. Rather, formal racial thinking is conceived as an historical product of the relationship between fluid metropolitan theorizing about human differences - itself rooted in praxis - and the empirical material produced by Europeans in response to specific encounters with non-Europeans. Theoretically, I argue for an indirect liaison between indigenous actions and their representation by foreign observers. That is, travellers' words and drawings were not simply arbitrary expressions of prevailing discourses and literary or artistic conventions. They were also personal productions generated in the tensions and ambiguities of encounters and significantly shaped by immediate perceptions of indigenous demeanour and lifestyle. I illustrate these propositions primarily with reference to the Oceanic experience of Jean-René Constant Quoy, a naval doctor and naturalist on the French voyages of Freycinet in 1817-1820 and Dumont d'Urville in 1826-1829. Quoy's racial representations oscillate in relation to mode of discourse and genre of text; but they also do so in response to the reception given to the voyagers in particular places and the behaviour, lifestyle, and physical appearance of the inhabitants.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)175-209
    JournalRevue d'Histoire des Sciences Humaines
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2009

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